Executing a will and estate is a serious undertaking, and a court will require you to be sworn in before you can start. Official letters from the judge will authorize you to deal with various entities such as insurance companies on the estate’s behalf. Some states will require you to post bond in the event that you abuse the powers of your office, though the decedent can waive this obligation in the will. You must then file the will and a petition for probate with the court in order to initiate your executor duties.
Create an affordable will with LegalZoom
Establish Notice of Death
The decedent’s creditors need a period of time during which to make claims against the estate for anything owed to them. Most states require that you mail official notice of the death to all creditors.Some states also require placing notice in local newspapers to alert creditors that you may not be aware of, as well as any other interested persons -- such as disinherited heirs -- who may not be aware of the decedent’s passing and are allowed time to contest the will.
Identify and Collect Assets
The American Bar Association recommends tallying the decedent’s assets as soon as possible. Some states require that you give the court an itemized list. Obvious items that might necessitate appraisals or valuations include real estate, automobiles, artwork and collectibles. Locate and close any bank accounts, transferring the funds into an account opened for the estate. Secure a tax identification number for the estate in order to do this. If the decedent had a safe deposit box, open it and include its contents among the assets. Set the wheels in motion to collect any insurance proceeds or Social Security benefits the deceased might be entitled to.
Pay Debts and Taxes
After you know exactly how much money the estate has to work with, begin paying off expenses, creditors and taxes. Many states have an established order for payment. Usually costs of the estate’s administration come first, including funeral expenses, followed by allowances for the support of immediate family members, taxes and creditors. File tax returns, as well -- both the deceased’s last personal returns and returns for the estate.
Distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will after everything is paid. The American Bar Association indicates that some states require you to give an accounting to the court and get approval for this first. Some property may need to be retitled for distribution.
After the court has approved final distribution, beneficiaries have received their assets and the IRS has cleared the estate, confirming that all taxes have been paid, the American Bar Association recommends having the beneficiaries sign documents indicating that you have completed your duties to their satisfaction and that they received their bequests, so that they cannot make any claims against you later. Finally, file a request to be discharged with the court, and your job is done.